30 June 2021/ rent_office_guide

Hybrid spaces - Managing office space and the partial return to work

Being in an office full-time and working from home were seen as two distinct worlds by many before Covid-19 made the latter a necessity for lots of us. You were either one or the other, and hybrid working was relatively rare. Now, as the vaccination programme continues to meet its ambitious targets and lockdown restrictions begin to ease, many employers and employees are looking to return to the office. However, with 40% of employers telling YouGov and CIPD they expect over half their employees to work from home regularly for the foreseeable future, we are all going to have to get used to hybrid working. And fast.

Here’s how businesses can ensure the partial return to work is productive, hassle-free and safe.


The benefits of hybrid working

One major effect of the string of lockdowns that saw home working become the norm for a large portion of the UK workforce is that many people have had to look at the way they previously managed their work/life balance.

Some felt liberated by no longer needing to commute or work to pre-defined 9-5 hours, while others struggled to create a clear distinction between work and play. Either way, one thing was clear: employees and businesses needed to move past rigid office and home working conceptions and promote flexibility. This is what hybrid working is all about.

Offices are great for collaborative working, but they can also be full of distractions. Hybrid working allows people to choose between spaces depending on where they would most benefit from working for that day or situation. Because of the increased flexibility, it can help reduce absence rates and improve productivity.

Creating the right environment for hybrid working

Getting back into the office on a partial basis doesn’t mean things can just go back to how they were pre-pandemic. There are many important considerations that businesses must consider to make the transition to hybrid working a success.

Get the right tech

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation for many businesses. Video conferencing, communication apps and cloud architectures became necessities overnight for many businesses, and this momentum mustn't be lost.

One of the most common mistakes when moving to a hybrid model is not ensuring that employees are equally set up for work at home and the office. This may mean having to provide additional monitors and keyboards so that people only need to take laptops home with them.

Another key challenge is communication. The success of hybrid working relies on how easy it is for people and teams in different locations to share information. If people in the office can’t communicate effectively with those at home, collaboration is hindered, and team members may become excluded and isolated.

Understand what people use offices for

The main thing that many people miss about the office is the connection to coworkers and the ability to collaborate more closely. Homeworking has many benefits, but feeling isolated was a major issue for a lot of people.

This connection is something to be celebrated, not policed rigorously. Offices should have lots of shared spaces and designated huddle spaces for quick meetings and chats. Some team members may still want to be able to work quietly, so flexibility is important. There should also be quiet meeting rooms, though, so that clients, remote colleagues or customers don’t have to endure the noise of a chatty office in the background of every call.

An office is also a great tool for learning and development activities as well as personal development. Long video calls have been a challenge for many, and, indeed, they often lack the interactivity of a face-to-face meeting. So 1-2-1 meetings with managers, learning initiatives, and personal development planning could benefit from taking place in person.

Make people feel safe

Despite the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions, health and safety is still crucial. For example, there are still government guidelines in place regarding masks and social distancing. Still, it is really the responsibility of employers to ensure they have created a working environment where people feel safe. A large part of this is not making the return to the office compulsory and being mindful that individuals may be living with vulnerable people or still have ongoing health conditions themselves.

Employers' key factors to consider when thinking about whether their workplaces are safe are air quality and circulation. While masks and social distancing are still important for the time being, the layout of working spaces is also a big factor in how easy it is to follow guidelines.

Set out clear roles and responsibilities

There is no set way to implement hybrid working successfully, and what works for each business will depend on its specific context. Because hybrid working is something that most companies have to get used to on the fly, ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined is crucial. This is particularly important for policies and procedures around expenses, IT usage, homeworking and data protection. For example, who is responsible for things like health and safety if managers are not in the office that day?

Make it positive

Many employees will be looking forward to stepping back into the office, but there is also likely to be some apprehension. The prospect of rushed mornings, balancing work with school runs and spending less time with family members represent a challenge, and it is an employers role to try and make the return to the office a positive experience. It is a chance to reconnect and reinvigorate, not to control where employees are more tightly.

Covid-19 was a sharp learning curve for many companies, and the vast majority passed the test. Now is the time to discard what isn’t working and integrate what is into a new way of operating. Hybrid working looks likely to stick around for some time, so office owners need to make sure their spaces are optimised to support it.